A few moments after the police box solidified and its metallic screech silenced, its wooden door creaked open and a thin man with ruffled chestnut hair in a brown pinstripe suit strode out. Jerking to a halt, he glanced around at the bare gray walls around him, then frowned in confusion. Tugging at his ear, he stepped back into the box and closed the door. A moment later, it began to emit the same cyclic screech, which decrescendoed as the box faded from view. In another few seconds, the box reappeared, and again, after the groaning silenced, the man stepped out of the door. This time, he closed it behind him, and, jamming his hands in the pockets of his trousers, he circled around the police box, verifying that he was indeed in a gray room, featureless except for a single door, almost invisible except for its shiny silver doorknob.
Running his hands through his hair, he sidled back to the box and stroked the wooden door jamb, his head bent as if he was listening to the blue paneling. "Why'd you bring me here? This isn't any part of headquarters I've ever seen. And the time... it's all a mess in my head. I can't tell when we are. What's wrong, old girl?" After a few moments of staring with unfocused eyes, he sniffed. "Well, you're not letting on. I suppose I'll have to figure it out for myself." Flashing an eager grin with the tip of his tongue pressed just behind his teeth, he spun toward the room's lone door, when the metallic groaning filled the air yet again. A second police box, its panelling scarred and scuffed, appeared next to the first. As it materialised, the man leaned against his own box, crossing his arms and adopting a stance of studied nonchalance.
The door of the newly-arrived police box opened presently and small, older man with a gray, grizzled beard and wearing a worn leather jacket strode out. His piercing gaze snapped to the taller man, and he frowned. "What are you doing here, Doctor?"
"My assigned task, Doctor."
"I know I'm getting on, but I'm sure this one was mine." He glanced around, then turned in place, his eyes flicking around in confusion. "Wait. Where are we?"
"That's what I'd like to know. I was trying to land at UNIT headquarters in, well, some appropriate year. The seventies? The eighties? You know. Hoping to catch the Brigadier as well as me." He patted the box behind his back. "Tried to land there twice, but she brought me here both times."
"Not at all where I was going. I was trying for Telos." He turned back toward his TARDIS and patted the doorframe. "What's wrong, old girl?"
Smirking, the taller Doctor pushed off his box and wandered over to the wall. He ran a hand over its perfectly smooth surface, then, sniffing it once, licked it. One eyebrow arched as his brow furrowed. "No..."
Cocking his head, the older-looking Doctor narrowed his eyes at his future self. "What is it?"
He replied while continuing to inspect the wall, his nose an inch from it. "The construction. Complex bioinorganics. Polymeric chelating ligands linking multimetallic macromolecules. Synthetic isotopes found only in one place in the universe. We're in a TARDIS."
The Doctor in leather raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Why are these things never simple?" he groaned. Shaking his head, he pulled his sonic screwdriver from his bandolier as he strolled over to the other man. "The murmurs of our two ladies are making it hard to hear anything else," He scanned the wall with the tool, then snorted. "Inconclusive. Whose do you think this is?"
"No idea." As his companion tucked the screwdriver back into his bandolier, he added, "I need to get me one of those." Gazing down at his own chest, he patted himself where a bandolier might hang on him.
"Whoever it is, he won't be happy to see us."
The pinstripe Doctor mimed drawing his screwdriver from the imaginary bandolier like a dagger, then mumbled, "Maybe not." Ignoring the disgusted expression from his predecessor, he straightened and clasped his hands behind his back. "He doesn't have to. We can be gone in a moment. Never has to know."
"Agreed. Let's go before he finds us." The two Doctors nodded in agreement on this plan, then, as one, turned towards the nearly invisible door. The taller one grasped the doorknob and pulled the door open, bowing deep with exaggerated gallantry to indicate that his predecessor should precede him.
The bearded Doctor stepped into a clean, almost sterile white corridor lit by an endless array of glowing white roundels in the walls. He glanced both ways down the otherwise featureless hallway as his companion came up next to him. "Pretty standard theme. No way to tell which way to go. Or how to get back. Got any breadcrumbs?"
The taller Doctor pulled a small ball of twine from his pocket and grunted. "Never did replace this. Let's see." Feeling around in his pockets a bit more, his face lit up as he found something, but immediately fell into disappointment. "Oh, no! I was almost done!" Grimacing, he produced a nearly-finished sock on double-pointed needles trailing a large ball of red fingering yarn.
"A sock?" The Doctor frowned at the unfinished craft. "Still carrying knitting?"
"Ever since the last time we wanted some." He rubbed the sock along his cheek. "Milthesian llama wool. Softest and warmest in the galaxy. Need good socks when you're running all the time." He sniffed, pursing his lips. "Still, can't be helped." Sighing, he pulled the needles out and, stuffing them back in his pocket, began unravelling the sock.
"Not the first time."
"No, but at least that time, we were done with the scarf." After a minute of pulling the yarn, the former sock was now a heap of jumbled curls on the floor. The Doctor handed the ball to his former self, then, tying a slip knot, secured the free end of the yarn to the doorknob. He then scooped up the pile. "Which way?"
"Doesn't matter." The gray-haired Doctor stepped off in one direction, the other following him while feeding the yarn loosely behind him.
Tacitly agreeing to stay with the corridor they started on, the Doctors walked on. Though it had numerous intersections, stairs, and ladders, the hallway continued straight, with no change in decor, no landmarks. Every so often, the warrior Doctor stopped to check behind a door, pulling out a marker to scribble its contents on the wall beside it. As they traveled, their crossed their path line a few times, and once, they could see it strung past the foot of a ladder as they peered down the hole. When the pile of loose yarn ran out, the soldier began unwinding the ball. They came to an intersection as the ball dwindled to three centimetres across, and the warrior grunted.
"We're almost out. Got the other member of the pair?"
The taller Doctor sniffed. "Nope-ah. Backtrack. We can save up the yarn from crossing our path." He stared back down the corridor, then glanced down the cross hallways. "Wait. Isn't that...? Yes! It is! Console room door!" As he dashed to it, the other Doctor secured the free end of the yarn to the wall to a nearby doorknob. "Yes! This is it!"
Striding down to his future self, the Doctor placed a hand on the door. "Might as well get this over with. See who we're dealing with." He nodded, then pushed the door a crack open. Both Doctors put an eye to the opening, and the warrior grunted.
"Oh, for gods' sake!"
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
Striding into the TARDIS, the Doctor pulled a lever on the console to close the door behind Jo and Sergeant Benton. As the UNIT soldier, a machine gun slung over his shoulder, gazed around the chamber, stunned confusion plain on his face, the Time Lord fiddled with a few other controls. "Right. Force field on."
Jo hurried to the Doctor's side and glared at him. "You were going off without me, weren't you?"
The Doctor ignored her as he studied the console, his brow furrowed under his halo of curly white hair. "Well, Sergeant, aren't you going to say that it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? Everybody else does."
Benton pulled his cap off as he stared, bunching it up in his hand. He gave a slight noncommittal shrug. "It's pretty obvious, isn't it? Anyway, nothing to do with you surprises me anymore, Doctor."
The Doctor replied with an absentminded air. "Oh, thank you for the compliment." Pulling a lever, he frowned as the time rotor emitted a dull thud. He pulled the lever again, then a third time, receiving an answering thud for each flip. "It's not reacting." He paused for a moment, thinking, then set his jaw. "There's only one thing for it. I'll have to send an SOS. I hate having to call them, but, there we are." Moving past Jo, he flipped a cover up and threw the switch hidden beneath it, then strode around the console to stop in front of the scanner.
Jo hovered by his side. "What were you planning to do, anyhow?"
"I was planning to lure that stuff away from the Earth, Jo, but now as it seems to have immobilised the TARDIS, I'm not going anywhere." He glanced at the monitor, which showed the red globular creatures rampaging through the UNIT base. "We're trapped."
"So what are we going to do?"
The Doctor gestured at the monitor. "At least we can watch that thing in comfort, and then we can send in a report and see what they have to say about it."
Benton came up behind Jo. "Who are they?"
"The Time Lords," Jo breathed. "Oh, things are pretty serious." She hugged her light blue faux-fur coat closer around herself.
"Yes. They are." Frowning, the Doctor continued to stare at the control panel. Next to the emergency beacon switch, a red light began flashing.
"Do you think they will send help soon?" Wringing her hands, Jo peered up at the Doctor.
"There's really no telling what might happen. I am sure that once they get the message, they'll have to call a meeting to decide if anything should be done, and if so, what." Sweeping his red velvet coat back, the Doctor set his fists on his hips as he watched the monitor. "The problem with living a very long time is that nothing is ever urgent."
A metallic grinding, much like the groaning of the time rotor, echoed through the chamber for a moment. "That's odd." The Doctor quickly glanced around, then stared at Jo and Benton. "Nobody touched anything, did they?"
"No," they answered together.
"But you heard it though, didn't you?" the Doctor demanded as he stepped back to the controls.
Benton strode to the doors to check them and then began circling the room as Jo replied, "Yes, and felt it, too. Could it be that stuff outside?"
The Doctor shook his head as he verified the integrity of the control panel. "No, I don't think so. Hello, what's this?" He picked up a blue-striped soprano recorder which hadn't been on the panel a moment ago and turned it over in his hands. "It seems strangely familiar. Is it yours, Jo?"
Noticing the other door out of the chamber was slightly ajar, the sergeant frowned. He readied his gun and walked over to check it out. "Doctor?"
Jo stared perplexed at the instrument in the Doctor's hands. "A flute? No."
"Well," the Doctor replied, "properly speaking, it's a recorder."
"Doctor?" Benton called over his shoulder.
A small man with ragged dark hair and baggy clothing appeared out of thin air and plucked the recorder out of the Doctor's hands. "Thank you. I was wondering where that had got to." He played a few notes on it before continuing. "You haven't been trying to play this have you?" He looked around. "Oh. I can see you've been doing the TARDIS up a bit. Hmm." He sneered. "I don't like it." The images on the scanner caught his eye. "Oh my word." He began twisting knobs on the console.
"Doctor!" Benton called, finally breaking the Doctor out of his stunned surprise. He scowled at the stranger, but before he could reply, the unknown man grinned and called out.
"Now, don't tell me. Corporal Benton, isn't it?'
Benton's pleasure of recognition was tainted by his concern for doing his job. "Sergeant Benton now." He nodded his head toward the stripes on his arm while training his gun on the door.
The man grinned, pleased. "How do you do, my dear fellow?"
"Nice to see you," the soldier replied as a reflex.
Throwing the stranger a dirty look, the Doctor cut in, very testily. "Yes, yes. That's all out of the way now. What is it, Sergeant?"
"There are two other men in here, did you know?" He strode over and pulled the hallway door open, revealing a tall, brown-haired, lanky young man in a mod pinstripe suit and a shorter gray-haired, grizzled old man in worn leathers. Shrugging, the taller one pursed his lips and remarked to his companion, "We never were the best at covert operations."
"Speak for yourself," the other man shot back. "You'd stand out anywhere, in that ridiculous getup."
"What is wrong with the way I dress?" the tall man squeaked.
Benton motioned with the tip of his gun. "Come on. Out here."
"Oi!" the taller one exclaimed. "Put that away, Benton. No need for that." He emerged from the hallway, the other man following him.
The soldier moved behind them. "Keep quiet, you!"
"Doctor!" Jo scurried around the TARDIS console to get a better look at the two new strangers. "Who are all these people and how did they get in here?"
The man in pinstripes smirked. "There's only one person here, Doctor, and that's you."
His companion looked daggers at him. "You can't ever give a straight answer, can you?"
The Doctor's eyes narrowed. His eyes flicked from the two strangers to the man with the recorder, and realisation dawned. He cleared his throat. "Well, it's bit difficult to explain, Jo."
"They're not them, are they?"
The Doctor grimaced with apprehension. "Well, not so much them as us. They're me, to be precise."
As the man with the recorder stepped forward and inhaled to protest, the man in leather cut in. "No, no, no! You're not going to do it like that and confuse the poor girl." He turned towards Jo and held her gaze as he spoke. "Jo, we are all the Doctor. He -" and he indicated the small dark-haired man with a glance, "- is from your Doctor's past. We -" and he waved his thumb at himself and the tall man next to him, "- are from your Doctor's future. But we are all the same man."
Jo stared at gray-haired man for a few seconds, then at each of the Doctors in turn, ending on the one she knew best. "Are they really you?"
"Yes, yes, I'm afraid so."
Stepping forward, Benton placed a hand on Jo's shoulder and she turned to him. "I think they are, Miss Grant. I don't know about these two, but you see, when the Brig and I first met the Doctor, he looked like him."
Jo looked around at the four Doctors, then shook her head in confusion. "How?"
"Yes," the white-haired Doctor cut in, "that's what I'd like to know. You've got no right to be here."
The black-haired Doctor gripped his recorder in one fist. "Perhaps."
The Doctor frowned. "What about the First Law of Time?"
The Doctor in pinstripes stepped forward, a friendly smile on his face. "Perhaps I could explain?" He glanced at Benton. "And could you put that down, Benton? I really don't like guns." The sergeant glanced at his gun and slung it over his shoulder with sheepish grin.
Scowling at his future self, the white-haired Doctor turned back to his predecessor. "Perhaps you could." His face screwing into a petulant pout, the pinstripe Doctor retreated behind the Doctor in leather. Ignoring him, the Doctor continued. "And concisely, please, if you could dispense with your usual rambling this one time."
The youngest Doctor scowled at him. "Rambling? You're the one who's been doing all the talking."
"Actually, it's been him." He jerked a thumb at the pinstripe Doctor.
"What?" Taken aback, the Doctor rocked back on his heels. "I've hardly said a word!"
"Well, you do have a gob," the leather-clad Doctor remarked.
"Keep your opinions to yourself, Granddad."
The white-haired Doctor raised his voice. "If you could explain with expediency..."
"Only if you stop casting aspersions about my character." Putting his recorder to his lips, the Doctor started playing a melody.
Squeezing his eyes shut, his successor pinched the bridge of his nose. "Must you?"
Halting his song, Doctor huffed, pursing his lips. "Are we going to take this attitude to my music all the time?"
The gray-haired Doctor growled out a "Yes!" as the Doctor in velvet replied, "Yes, I'm rather afraid we are."
"DOCTOR!" yelled Jo as she stamped her foot, fists clenched.
All four men whirled on her, and her Doctor rolled his eyes. "Yes, Jo, you are quite right." With a gallant nod to his predecessor, he coaxed him, "Please, do explain."
The black-haired Doctor nodded in kind before speaking. "Well, our fellow Time Lords out there are just as much under siege as we are."
"And they couldn't send anyone to help you. But they did summon up enough temporal energy to lift me out of my bit of our timestream and pop me down here, into my own future, so to speak. However -" and he held up a hand to keep his successor from speaking, "- I do not know why these two are here. The Time Lords told me nothing about summoning help from our future."
"Well, you see," the bearded Doctor broke in, "that is because we didn't come from the Time Lords. We're here on quite different business."
Plunging his hands into his trouser pockets, the Doctor standing behind him circled around. "That's what I was trying to tell you. We've the destruction of Gallifrey to stop. Omega can wait."
The two younger Doctors frowned. "Omega?" the white-haired Doctor queried. "The Omega? Preposterous!"
"Oh." The Doctor ran a hand through his already-ruffled hair. "I suppose I shouldn't have said that."
The gray-haired Doctor rolled his eyes. "No, you shouldn't have. Doesn't matter. They won't remember anyway."
"Doctor?" Jo tugged on her Doctor's velvet sleeve. "What are they talking about? Who is Omega?"
"A man from Gallifrey's distant past." He squared himself in front of the pinstripe Doctor, his fists on his hips. "I think perhaps you ought to put us in the picture."
All four Doctors closed their eyes.
After quite a few seconds, they each opened their eyes. Tapping his chest with his recorder, the Doctor sighed. "Disturbing. Yes, quite disturbing. I hadn't wanted to know that."
"No." The Doctor in leather shook his head, his eyes sad and weary. "You'll forget it soon enough, when it's all over and we've gone."
"That's a mercy."
Stepping over next to Jo, Benton leaned in toward her. "Now what was that about?"
The girl seemed just as lost. "A sort of telepathic conference, I think. Doctor," she called. "What is going on?"
"Jo." Coming over to stand in front of her, the Doctor took her hand in his. "These gentlemen have come from my future to ask for both of our assistance." His eyes flicked to his predecessor to indicate him. "It is a dire emergency, and we must be off soon."
"But what about the monsters outside?"
The brown-haired Doctor stepped up to next to them. "It's hard to explain. Time is complicated. Right now, it's mixed up, confused. We need help, and after it's all done, your Doctor will return, with him" - he waved a hand at the Doctor with the recorder - "and time will straighten out. You won't even remember that we've been here or that he'd been gone. And then they'll deal with the monsters outside."
Jo gaped at him for a moment, then set her hands on her hips. "That's utter nonsense." With a worried frown, she turned to her Doctor. "Are these men really you?"
"I'm afraid so, Jo. And what he says is true." Still holding her hand, the Doctor clasped it in both of his. "Trust me, Jo." Staring him in the eyes, she blinked and her worry melted from her face. She nodded. "Thank you. Now. I can't let you back out there, so what I need for you to do is to go with Sergeant Benton and retire to the library. You'll be safe there. Stay there until I come for you." He glanced up at the soldier, who nodded.
"Come along, Miss Grant." Benton offered her his arm, which she took, and together, they walked out of the console room, Jo glancing back at the Doctor as she left.
Pulling his specs out of his pocket and putting them on, the pinstripe Doctor turned to watch the scanner. "Dear old Lethbridge-Stewart. Still blazing away as usual."
"He is doing what he must," the Doctor in leather replied, his voice heavy with reprimand.
"And what is the plan?" The black-haired Doctor's question pulled the attention of all his selves back to the task. The two future Doctors fished translucent cubes from their pockets and handed them to the two younger Doctors.
The pinstripe Doctor waggled a finger at the cubes. "The coordinates are on those. Our oldest self will have the final calculations done when we get there and transmit them to all of us." He sniffed. "I'll warn you, though. The planet's under the heaviest Dalek attack ever, so shields up and evasive maneuvers!"
The leather-clad Doctor eyed him. "You've always wanted to say that, haven't you?"
"Yup-ah!" His grin was wide and toothy.
"Well." The white-haired Doctor set his fists on his hips. "That's simple enough. Now to solve the last problem."
"What's that?" his younger self asked.
"My TARDIS can't move away from Earth. Even if it could, something's draining the energy from it."
"Ah, that. Yes." The brown-haired Doctor held up both index fingers. "I know just how to fix that. That's the benefit of hindsight." Ducking down below the console, he removed a panel and crawled inside. "First, let's remove the lock on the controls. And I'm not telling you how that's done. Going to have to put it back after, of course. Then, considering where the - unh! - drain is coming from, it only makes sense to put up a positron shield. Just need to connect the conversion - ow! - chamber to the shield array." Whirrrr. "And that should do it. Doctor, will you try that out?"
As he pushed himself back out, the leather-clad Doctor stepped forward and flipped a switch on the console. The ever-present hum of the TARDIS shifted subtly, and all the Doctors smiled.
"Excellent work!" The Doctor with the recorder clapped his future self on the shoulder.
"Thank you." Beaming with pride, he pulled off his glasses and dropped them in a pocket. "But now, on to the more difficult project."
"Putting you back in your own timestream." He jammed his hands in his trouser pockets. "We know where you should be, but getting you back there will require breaking through the temporal barriers. That'll take some tricky piloting. Fortunately," and his eyes shone eagerly as he spoke, "there's four of us to man the console!"
"Three of us. Maybe three and a half, if we're lucky." The velvet-clad Doctor eyed his predecessor.
The Doctor shook his recorder at him. "Now, now. There's no need to be ungracious."
"Actually, Doctor." The gray-haired Doctor wagged a finger at the one in pinstripes. "We have two TARDISes parked here. We can use one to feed artron energy to the other, and that would double its effectiveness."
"Oh, brilliant! To my TARDIS then!"
"No, to mine."
"We really don't need these two to see your messy desktop."
"What is wrong with coral? It's artistic! Organic!"
"Gentlemen. Must we fight about every single thing?"
"You expect us to take you seriously while you carry that ridiculous whistle?"
"I never expected you to appreciate the arts, you Philistine."
"Doctors!" The leather Doctor's speech was clipped and nervous. "We must be going now. You can bicker all you want on the way."
The white-haired Doctor bristled. "Surely there's plenty of time on this end of history. No need to hurry."
"Well, there are other considerations, too. I'd really like to avoid..." He caught his oldest self's eye, then cast a meaningful glance at the scanner. "No time to lose."
Staring at the scanner in confusion for a moment, the pinstripe Doctor's jaw dropped in horror, and he ran a hand through his brown mop. "Oh! Yes. Time and tide wait for no Doctor and all that. It's been lovely." He dashed to the door and held it open while the soldier Doctor ushered the other two Doctors forward, bewildered looks on their faces. They all disappeared into the corridor.
After a minute of silence, the scanner flickered on. An old-looking man sitting in a metal triangular frame, with white hair that hung just below his ears, peered out into the room. "Hello? Is anyone there? Hmm?"